BERLIN – Matthieu Loos and Marko Mayerl of Compagnie Combats Absurdes from Lyon performed “Slow Impro” at the English Theatre Berlin on the evening of March 19th, 2013; the duo was accompanied musically by Robert Munziger (Die Gorillas, Berlin).
Slow Impro: The Format
The scenes of the evening were diverse, neither related to each other nor to a common theme. The basic format of “Slow Impro” is structured in the following way: at first, one player engages in “Matter Work”; the term stems from Matthieu and the author had the privilege of participating in a workshop on the same subject. Thus the actor/actress picks an object within his/her reach – the floor, the curtain, clothes, or an abstract gesture – and incorporates it into his/her play for a while. Another player is observing this, looking for inspiration; this second actor/actress is also able to give commands like “choose something different” or “continue with this”. Eventually, the player on the sideline describes what he/she observes, for instance: “We’re witnessing a sculptor at work. He is shaping clay, shaping the woman of his dreams. He works on every detail with utmost care.” The player on stage is inspired by the words of the “coach” and incorporates the suggestions into the performance, in turn further influencing the narrator. Subsequently, the latter joins the former on stage and both interact with each other. In case of Matthieu and Marko, three scenes of varied length resulted from this approach before the break, and six in the second half of the show.
The slow speed of the format virtually demands an emphasis on physicality – and the Frenchman Matthieu, as well as the Dutchman Marko, excelled in this art in a way previously unknown to the author. Matthieu embodied his role of an artist and used the entire space of the stage in the process by running, jumping and rolling around on the floor. He was joined by his counterpart Marko, who was less athletic and more soft, almost fragile. In a subsequent scene both were chasing each other as lion (Matthieu) and gazelle (Marko), resulting in Marko literally being hunted down by Matthieu. In another scene both actors were rolling around on imagined grass; the green was also invisible in the sense that the scene unfolded in the heads of the characters only – a lawyer and his client, soon to be executed. In yet another performance the actors suggestively stripped themselves of their shoes and socks and continued barefooted. The scene also included elements of comedy, when both players unsuccessfully tried to undress repeatedly; in another erotic turn of events, Matthieu tried to unbutton the shirt of Marko by using his foot.
The author was under the impression that the communication between the actors and the light engineer did not go so well. Thus Matthieu gesticulated distinctly, and sometimes even gave clear spoken directions to the person working the lights. In addition, it seemed that the players would have preferred a sooner blackout for maximum effect.
Further, the musician only engaged modestly in the performance. Robert contributed mainly sound effects, like a siren, resulting in scenes mostly played in silence without magnificent melodies.
Relations, Talking Heads, And The Question: What Is The Essence Of “Good Improv”?
Slow Impro is not a typical improv format, opening up the possibility to miss the expectations of the audience. Thus the crowd’s reaction was differentiated: some people left already during the break, while the applause was cautious in general. However, a small group of people did burst with laughter. Overall, there were fewer laughs than in improv formats dedicated to comedy, for the central feature of Slow Impro is its tardiness, which is pushed to the absurd at times. A conversation with the actors after the show revealed that Matthieu and Marko perform exactly this way also in Lyon.
I highly anticipated the show, having attended a workshop by the same name led by Matthieu six months prior. Primarily, I remembered the depth of content in every scene, including fascinating relations among the characters and multiple hair-raising moments. Unfortunately, the show on Tuesday evening left me wanting in this respect. The genius of the respective relationships between the actors I missed most, because they tended to be highly abstract this time: “Father, why did mother leave you?” – “Remember the previous evening, when you have not finished your dinner?” – “I do.” – “See, that’s why.” I was under the impression that the connection between the players was disrupted, which would explain their inclination to abstract dialogues. Confusingly enough, the conversations on stage also resembled talking head situations, despite the immense emphasis on physicality in many scenes.
I suppose there were questions among the visitors after the show: what is the essence of “good improv”? Does it always have to be funny? Do you need a story? Do you have to emphasize relationships? Or do these assumptions merely constitute a ready-made construct, which is prematurely used by players like me? Compagnie Combats Absurdes is proof that another approach is possible – by being “absurd” in the truest form of the term. Their format enriches the world of improv, even though it probably might not satisfy everybody.
Over the course of the festival, Matthieu and Marko will perform again as part of the show “3 Epochen” in the Markthalle IX on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013; they will also appear within the Bollywood show in the English Theatre Berlin on Friday, March 22nd, 2013.
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